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Economy

Detroit officials will go door-to-door as water bills go unpaid

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The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is starting a door-to-door campaign in April after they say that a growing number of residents are not paying their water bills.

The City of Detroit has a shutoff moratorium in place through the end of the year, meaning the water department will not turn off anyone’s water, even if they do not pay their water bills.

Water department officials said the water and sewerage bill collection rate has dropped 20 percentage points since the pandemic started.

Prior to 2020, 93% of households in the city were paying their water bills, according to the city's water department.

But those numbers are dropping. In the most recent data, only 73% of households were paying their water bills.

Officials said that will cost the city $38 million this year, and it may drive up next year’s sewer and water rates.

Roger Colton, a lawyer who focuses on water affordability, said the city’s water department needs to address the underlying issue: making water bills more affordable in the city.

"When people get behind on their bills, the remedy isn’t to simply pay off what they owe," Colton said. "The remedy is to figure out why they got behind in the first place."

He suggested making the moratorium permanent, and he and called for an income-based billing system so that people are not struggling to pay their bills.

"It’s the people who pay their water bills but who skip meals in order to have enough money to do that," Colton said. "The paid but unaffordable bill is a real problem in Detroit and elsewhere."

Detroit offers five water assistance programs that officials are urging residents to sign up for.

That's why officials are going door-to-door in Detroit.

Detroit Water and Sewerage Director Gary Brown says they're letting residents know that there is $15 million available in the city to assist people with water bills.

"We're attempting to wrap our arms around our customers and holistically fix as many of their problems as we can," Brown said.

He said the moratorium does not keep anyone from paying their bill, and that residents can sign up for payment programs.

Brown said that the average cost of water bills in Detroit is $75 a month.

"We have a program for every customer in the City of Detroit to ensure that they will not have a service interruption if they just ask for help, no matter if they're low-income or not," Brown said.

Water rates have also increased for the city of Detroit.

The Great Lakes Water Authority, which serves communities in eight counties near metro Detroit, approved a rate increase that will begin this July.

During a February public forum, the board voted unanimously for a 3.7% hike in wholesale water rates and a 2.4% increase in sewer rates for the 2023 fiscal year.

Officials said households with a past due water bill should call Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Alliance at 313-388-9799.

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